Mental disorders have some of the most significant and enduring social stigmas of any conditions out there. This is why no one speaks of them. They sweep them under the rug, and lock them in the attic. It's why so many cases go undiagnosed for years, and health coverage for these conditions are limited when compared to physical maladies. With no outward physical manifestations, they are the ugly, unloved stepchildren of the frail human condition.
No matter how much people proclaim otherwise, we are all judged at first glance by our outward appearance and behavior. But, just because someone looks normal, it doesn't mean that there isn't something wrong--that the person needs help, patience, and compassion. You may just see someone with a really short fuse and aggressive temper. Someone with no social skills or little empathy. Someone who has really annoying habits like perpetually humming, chewing their fingernails, or periodically grunting. They are the "weird" ones. Better stay away from them. You never know WHAT they'll do. What you don't see is that the person with the short temper has severe ADHD; his emotions are physically amplified 10 times and he's never received any treatment for the condition so functioning day-to-day is an absolute horrendous slog. The weird co-worker who is socially awkward and terminally shy, albeit great at her job, has Asperger's. The old woman down the street who yells at the kids all the time is severely depressed because she has lost her son to cancer. That person humming, and chewing his fingernails needs the physical stimulation to be able to focus on tasks at hand.
One of the jobs of an employer when looking for employees is to find competent, reliable individuals who will fit with the existing team. But they have to make this decision based on a written resume and a couple of personal interviews. It's not really enough information to make an accurate decision. The same can be said for college admissions. These days what we do to help bridge this information gap is try to find as much information as possible. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google...these are where we go after the CV is looked at. We are making a judgement based not just on the brief 15 minute interview, but on the record of the candidate's life in the digital universe.
If you have read any of my other blog entries about caring for my son, who has special needs, you will notice that I NEVER use his name. Why? Because his issues carry a huge social stigma. My husband and I decided that we wanted to share our experiences to help other families learn from our life, to feel like they aren't alone. At the same time, we didn't want an electronic trail of his disorders keyed directly to his name. We're afraid that a potential date might Google him, find out about his issues going back to when he was so young, and prematurely jump to conclusions; similarly with college admissions or employers. Yes, it's illegal for employers to discriminate based on disability. But no one would ever say that's why he was turned down for a job or didn't get the college placement.
So...no names. That being said, this stigma has to stop. People need to realize that the brain is a very poorly understood part of the human body. The only way to remove the stigma is by talking about the issues. Stop pretending they don't exist. Show the world what kindness, humor, dignity, competence, and compassion can lie in everyone's heart, regardless of ability.
Am I being a hypocrite then, by NOT publically using my son's name? Perhaps. It's a very, very fine line to walk between advocation and guiding, while protecting my son's future interests. What do you think? How can we as a society drop the walls and let everyone in?